How I use the 5-Star rating system on Goodreads

Most book reviewers believe in some way that rating all books on the same scale of 1 to 5 is messy. For example, what am I supposed to do when I just read a really good fantasy book that is nothing like any of the literary fiction picks that dominate my shelves? What do those five stars even MEAN? Why are there only five? Why is rating books even important?

Over time I stopped putting 1 to 5 ratings on my blog reviews, because I think the definition of what those stars mean varies too much from person to person. What I use the star ratings for is very specific and probably doesn’t matter much to most of my readers.

On goodreads, when you’re asked to give your review, you can mouse over the stars and see what each tier is supposed to mean:

  • One star is “did not like it”
  • Two stars is “it was ok”
  • Three stars is “liked it”
  • Four is “really liked it”
  • Five is “it was amazing.”

I’ve taken these arbitrary guidelines and adapted them over the years. This wasn’t something I set out to do – I was reluctant at first to even use the rating system on goodreads – but over time as I got more comfortable logging the books I’ve read on goodreads, the categories became more specific in my mind. For me,

  • One star is about the same. It’s a book I definitely did not like. I’ve only given a handful of these (thankfully)
  • Two stars is a book I feel more complexly about. I didn’t not like it, but I’m not sure I liked it either. It’s somewhere in between.
  • Three stars, which is the rating I use most often, means that I liked the book. (And let me re-iterate that: three stars is NOT a bad review! Not everything can be a 4 or 5!) Three stars means that I liked the book, but I don’t see myself re-reading it in the future. My copies of these books usually get donated to be sold secondhand.
  • Four stars means that I really liked a book. I will definitely keep my copy because four stars means that I’ll want to re-read it at some point.
  • And five star ratings belong to my favorite books. Books that for one reason or another, I really connect with or value. Usually for these, I’ll read the last page and immediately want to re-read it. There’s something about these five star ratings that makes them special, and a gut feeling where I know they are going to stick with me for a long time.

Ultimately, I felt like these criteria didn’t matter much to the reviewing world, which is why I stopped using them on my site. I don’t want a book to look worse in someone’s eyes because I decided I didn’t want to keep the paperback, or because their idea of a three star book is different from mine. The drawback, however, is that I know many readers – myself included – look to the star ratings first to see how favorable a book is going to come across before even reading a review. I see the value in that, but it’s a tradeoff I was willing to make.

Happy 2016, book lovers!

How do you use goodreads’ rating system (or amazon, or any similar site)? 

4 thoughts on “How I use the 5-Star rating system on Goodreads

  1. I definitely look at star ratings when reading reviews but I also take into consideration that it will be looked at in different ways and I might not see it with the same meaning as the one rating it did. That’s why I pay most attention to the review content because a great one will speak louder than the rating by itself ❤ great post!
    Enchanted by YA


  2. I just use the Goodreads rating system and follow my heart, so to speak. I think it’s kind of messy *but* I’m one of those people who check the rating *before* reading reviews because it’s faster and as someone who’s usually part of the majority (for both loving or hating a book), the rating is a good prediction of how much I’ll enjoy the book. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but especially when I’m in a hurry, it’s more helpful to quickly check the rating. But that doesn’t mean I’m super in love with the rating system because it has its flaws and in the end, there are other things that factor into my decision.

    – Rachana @ Spun


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